So farewell, then, Piers

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The Independent Online

The dismissal of Piers Morgan as the editor of the Daily Mirror is a regrettable conclusion to a dishonourable episode. The Mirror now acknowledges that the pictures that it printed purporting to show British soldiers maltreating Iraqi prisoners were fakes. In an unreserved apology, it said that the paper had been the subject of a "calculated and malicious hoax".

The dismissal of Piers Morgan as the editor of the Daily Mirror is a regrettable conclusion to a dishonourable episode. The Mirror now acknowledges that the pictures that it printed purporting to show British soldiers maltreating Iraqi prisoners were fakes. In an unreserved apology, it said that the paper had been the subject of a "calculated and malicious hoax".

There has been no serious suggestion - except from the paper's diehard enemies - that the Mirror knowingly printed fake pictures. Once the arm-chair consensus had agreed that they did not look genuine, it was easy to concur. It was far less easy for the Mirror's editor, as the pictures of American abuses dominated the airwaves, to reach a definitive decision. He checked to his satisfaction, and decided to publish or be damned; he has ended up damned.

The ramifications of the Mirror's misjudgement were unusually grave, because of the subject matter and the climate in Iraq. The lives of British servicemen and women were probably placed at risk. Mr Morgan's editor's chair will be seen as the appropriate price for his misjudgement.

Yet it would be deeply regrettable if the circumstances of Mr Morgan's departure obscured the Mirror's real achievements under his editorship and the uncomfortable truths that the fake pictures exposed. During his tenure, the Mirror was an exciting paper that broke notable scoops, regularly eclipsing the less than shining Sun. We recall, with undimmed pleasure, the report from Buckingham Palace by a journalist who came within a day of serving the visiting President Bush with breakfast. Mr Morgan also deserves credit for the boldness with which he took on the Government over the war in Iraq and gave his readers serious news - sometimes against pressure from within.

And while the pictures that made his departure inevitable did not show real events, the reports they illustrated forced the Government to admit that British troops in Iraq were not blameless. It would be reprehensible now if ministers used the pictures and the Mirror apology to discredit all the accusations the paper made. Anyone in Whitehall who cheered at his departure should bear in mind that when a newspaper found that it had unwittingly peddled a falsehood, the editor was sacked.

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